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Q&A: Caught in the Act with… Adam Chanler-Berat

Adam Chanler-Berat has been a pretty busy dude the past few years. After starring as Henry for the full Broadway run of Next to Normal he moved to a little off-Broadway play called Peter and The Starcatcher, then into some show you may have heard of calledRent, and then back to Starcatcher, this time on the Broadway where the play scooped up a passel of Tony Awards. Needless to say we feel pretty lucky to have snagged  a few minutes of in-demand-Adam’s time just before curtain so we could ask about the show, what it’s like to play such iconic characters, and most importantly, his favorite breakfast cereal. Read on below…

The Mick: You’re in a show right now that won about a zillion Tony Awards, but you joined the cast when it was in this tiny little off-Broadway house, so, looking back, did you see this coming?

Adam: I didn’t. My honest answer is whenever you get a job, of course, you always hope and imagine a long life for it. I sort of hoped and dreamed that I would be in this show for a while. Mostly because I think the longer shows run, the more mature they get, and the better, more precise and clear the storytelling gets. I also think it works better now than it ever worked at the [New York Theater] Workshop. I don’t know whether it’s the midtown address that just makes it what it is, or whether the style of the show fits in a bigger house better. I think comedy always works better in a large environment where people can feed off each other’s laughs.

M: Do you have a favorite scene in the show?

A: That sort of thing always changes for me, but I think right now it’s the trunk scene that I have with Celia in Act II where I find out that she may have wanted to kiss me, where you see them get the closest you ever see them to being together. I’m so inspired by [Celia] and I’m so in awe of her talent, and she’s so fun to play off of, and she’s got so much depth as a person and as an actor. It’s one of those rare moments in our show where there’s nothing else going on other than two people talking to each other. Those moments are cherished in the show and I get to just revel in that.

M: As you just mentioned, there’s a lot going on in this show and in particular, there’s some very finely tuned rope work that you guys do as a company. Have you had any spectacular mishaps on stage?

A: Craptacular mishaps?

M: Craptacular mishaps, yes.

A: Every now and then your mind miscalculates and there’s a swing and a miss, you just totally blow it. That sort of stuff happens all the time. I mean, we’re human, so when humans are doing very precise things there has to be a margin of error and that plays itself out eight times a week. From time to time — and I don’t know whether it’s because we’re all so conscious that we’re playing younger, or we’re having such a good time doing this — but every now and then you can work yourself up into a giggle frenzy. It’s such a hysterically funny group of people and the show is so funny.

M: What is the best note that you ever got back from Alex Timbers?

A: [Laughs] Hold the rope two inches higher on your right side? I don’t know.

M:  So right now you’re a playing Peter Pan who is a pretty iconic character, and just before this you played Mark Cohen in Rent, who is also super-iconic. Did you feel any pressure because of that? How did you handle it?

A: Well, I feel like they’re two different kinds of legacies we’re dealing with. Like, I really do think that the legacy of Mark is Anthony Rapp, and for a very good reason. I think that he was so integral in the creation of that person in that project, and I know he was very close to Jonathan. And then I think with Peter you’re dealing more with the legacy of the collective imagination of Peter Pan. It’s less about a person and the way that they are, and more about some part of every human being that is just really attracted to this idea. So I don’t feel like with our show in particular — since I’m a man and most of the people who have played Peter before are women — I don’t feel in any way that I’m dealing with one particular performance or managing that. But I definitely felt that sort of pressure with Rent. The truth of the matter is that I could never be Anthony. And, you know, the text from RENT stands on its own. As important as all those original players were, it’s a piece of art and that sort of thing is bigger than just one person and one version of that person, you know? It’s why that show lasted ten years on Broadway. That’s why it was made into a movie, because the themes of the show, the people that we fall in love with on stage, are greater than just the initial people who made it. So I kept having to tell that to myself.  With Peter I really didn’t think about it all that much. I read the young adult novel that [the play] was based off of, I read the original Peter Pan novel, the Peter Pan musical, the Peter Pan short story, all of those things. I read a little bit about J.M. Barrie and the biographical elements that played into the story. But after I did all of that, I really just handled it like I would handle any other part. You just deal with the circumstances of your character and the text of the show. I think that you get into trouble if you try to make it something more important or grander than what it is.

M: Where did you grow up?

A: I grew up in Rockland County, New York, which is upstate, and on the other side of the Hudson from here. I grew up in a little town called West Nyack. Well, I really grew up in Bardonia, but that’s a tiny little hamlet, so West Nyack is what I tell people.

M: Did you like it there?

A: Yeah, I have a really great, open-minded, supportive family. I grew up like a middle class suburban kid. Of course, I had my troubles, but everyone does, so, I feel like I had a really good, calm, safe upbringing.

M: Did you have a favorite stuffed animal as a kid?

A: Oh my god, weird question! I did. Remember that department store A&S? My grandpa used to work for them, he was an artist back in the days when the catalogues were hand-drawn, and he got me this Abraham and Strauss [set], I think Abraham was a Teddy Bear and Strauss was a mouse. It was like, a holiday thing, and I loved it very much.

M: Favorite mid-to-late-90s pop song.

A: Oh my god, [laughs] we were just singing [sings] “Come to my window…”

M: Yes! Melissa Ethridge.

A: Yeah, we were just singing that in the other room seconds ago, so I have to say that.

M: Perfect. Alright, what’s your favorite book of all time?

A: I have to say it’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.

M: Some words you use too often.

A: “Uhm!” Uhm… what do I… I drop the F-Bomb? I dunno. Uh—“I dunno?”

M: Words you don’t use often enough.

A: Craptacular.

M: I mean, that’s my favorite answer we’ve ever gotten. What’s your favorite breakfast cereal?

A: Lucky Charms.

M: On average, how often do people misspell your name?

A: Daily.

M: Okay. You’re 15-years-old and it’s a Saturday afternoon. Where are we most likely to find you?

A: Fifteen. What grade is that?

M: Like… Ninth or Tenth Grade.

A: In the music hallway at my high school, in a private rehearsal room memorizing a monologue from this play that I did, The Curious Savage.

M: Do you have a dream role in a play or musical?

A: I want to be George in Sunday in the Park.

Credit: Linda Lenzi

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